The Cubs hosted the Reds at Wrigley Field, September 17, 2019. With Sonny Gray on the mound, the bottom of the second inning began with a walk to Victor Caratini. Gray, pitching from the stretch position, retired the next two batters. Then, on his first pitch to Yu Darvish, Gray went to his full windup and delivered a strike. When Gray got the ball back from his catcher, Tucker Barnhart, he made eye contact with Barnhart and smiled when he realized that he forgot about the baserunner and used his full windup. Caratini, the runner at 1B, did not attempt to steal.
However, 3B Umpire, Jeff Nelson, saw the infraction and strolled to the mound to explain to Gray that he had committed a balk. He was soon joined by the other umpires and Reds’ manager, David Bell. After a brief discussion, Caratini was awarded 2B on the balk and play resumed.
Gray utilizes a modified set/windup which means that his full windup resembles his stretch position because his pivot foot is in front of and parallel to the rubber when he starts his motion. Because there is no “stop” in the full windup, it is a balk.
It is legal to pitch from the windup with runners on base and as long as the umpires are aware that the pitcher is pitching from the full windup and not the stretch, no balk will be called. However, with a runner at 1B, the umpires assumed Gray was pitching from the stretch (like the previous two batters) so when Gray stepped back with his stride foot to begin his motion toward home, he did not come to required full stop complete stop and Nelson called the balk.
Because so many pitchers are now using the modified set/windup position, also referred to as “side saddle,” MLB made changes to Rule 5.07(2) in 2017.
SET VS. WINDUP POSITION
Rule 5.07(2) [former Rule 8.01(b)]: The comment to Rule 5.07(a)(2) states, in part, that, “With a runner or runners on base, a pitcher will be presumed to be pitching from the Set Position if he stands with his pivot foot in contact with and parallel to the pitcher’s plate, and his other foot in front of the pitcher’s plate, unless he notifies the umpire that he will be pitching from the Windup Position under such circumstances prior to the beginning of an at-bat. A pitcher will be permitted to notify the umpire that he is pitching from the Windup Position within an at-bat only in the event of (i) a substitution by the offensive team; or (ii) immediately upon the advancement of one or more runners (i.e., after one or more base runners advance but before the delivery of the next pitch).” Once the pitcher notifies the home plate umpire of his intention to pitch from the Windup, the umpire should call “Time”; the ball is dead; and the umpire should indicate to the other members of the crew and each Club that the pitcher has elected to pitch from the Windup.